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Ties that bind

Kenai Peninsula draws residents back to their old stomping grounds

Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2001

While many area teens share a dream of life beyond the Kenai Peninsula, sometimes a dose of "big city" life is enough to bring them home.

For others, the goal of returning is a constant.

Area residents who came back to the peninsula after college explain that getting away was nice, but coming back to family, friends and the place they call home, was the best decision of all.

These are their stories.

Matt and Nichole Streiff

Matt Streiff came back after college with a wife and a dream -- to raise his family on the peninsula and to serve the community he grew up in.

"I guess there are a number of reasons. My most impressionable years were spent growing up in Alaska," Matt said. "Just the fact that people knew who you were and were willing to help."

Matt, a 1994 graduate of Skyview High School, was born in Minnesota, but he moved to Alaska when he was 10 and has lived here ever since, except for the four years spent in college.

He received degrees in the fields of business administration and accounting from Valley City State University in North Dakota. The university is in a town about half the size of Soldotna, and combined with the atmosphere of a small college, Matt said, he only felt stronger about his plans to return to Alaska with his degrees.

"I liked what Kenai and Soldotna had to offer in terms of recreation and to be involved," he said. "My wife was born and raised here, and we wanted to raise our kids with what Alaska has to offer. I don't like the hustle and bustle of a big city."

Nichole, Matt's wife, graduated in 1996 from Skyview. Once she graduated, she moved to North Dakota to be with her future husband. She said she shared a lot of graduates' opinions about leaving, but only for a short while.

"I did leave right after I graduated, but after the first year I knew I wanted to come back," she said. "It was flat farmland, not nearly as beautiful as it is here."

"We were planning when we got married that we would come back here. Both my parents and Matt's parents were here."

Matt agreed that family played a role in their decision to return to the Kenai Peninsula.

"Sure it had some bearing, my brothers and mom and dad are here," he said. "That is always a blessing, to share in the happiness of good times."

Matt and Nichole have since started a family of their own. They have two kids, one who is 3, one who is almost 2 and another on the way.

The Streiffs said they also appreciate the supportive community.

"I am very, very pleased that I am here, fortunate to be in such an incredibly well-knit community," Matt said. "My line of work was a godsend. I just feared for my life that I would have to live in Anchorage. Now I can help people who helped me grow up and get a degree."

Matt works for Edward Jones Investments in Kenai, often helping residents plan for their retirements.

"My only transitional employment was working with my father-in-law," he said. "I came back with no fears that I was going to get something somewhere, even if that meant starting out at the bottom.

"I was just fortunate enough to come into a job where I have complete autonomy to run my own office. I am able to take my time off where needed. With children and with a pregnant wife, I am able to do that."

He and Nichole agree they wouldn't change anything.

"I can't think of anything better to be doing," he said. "It isn't the job that made it, it fits in the lifestyle and community."

The both say they knew they wanted to come back beforehand and that decision continues to fulfill itself every day.

"We are planning on staying here forever," Nichole said.

Jeff and Jessica Baker

Jeff Baker is one of the reasons Matt and Nichole Streiff ended up in North Dakota in the first place.

 

Jessica and Jeff Baker

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

Matt and Jeff attended school together from their elementary years through high school. Jeff skipped a grade early on and graduated a year before his friend, but they were reunited in North Dakota at Valley City State University.

"I'd have paid anything to have another year," Jeff said of his early graduation.

Unlike his best friend, Jeff was born and raised in Alaska, and his wife was the one who moved to the state.

Jessica came to Alaska from Colorado right before her freshman year in high school; she wasn't part of the Skyview gang because she attended Soldotna High School, but Jeff said they vaguely knew each other.

They weren't formally introduced until Matt and Nichole's wedding. After she graduated in 1994, Jessica, like Nichole, moved to North Dakota to be with her future husband.

Jessica said they both always knew they would return. Both her and Jeff's families still lived in the state, and they never doubted they would make Alaska their home, too.

When the couple returned, they had an opportunity to purchase Little People's Learning World and a facility in Kenai.

"A day care in Kenai was going out of business, and he knew some people who were selling Little People's Learning World," Jessica said. "We prayed a lot about it before we decided."

The Bakers opened with only four children, but now, even in the summer when enrollment is down, the school has 75 kids. The Bakers and eight women run the day care.

"I did this because I wanted to figure out a way to have my wife have an income and still be at home with the kids," Jeff said.

It has worked out perfectly, he said. Under normal circumstances Jeff works Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Jessica works Tuesday and Thursday. However, the couple just had their fourth child and Jessica has been staying at home with their newborn.

They also have a 4-year-old boy, 3-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy.

"I definitely think that it is the perfect place to raise kids," Jessica said. "It is too hard to be away from family."

Jeff lived with his father growing up and the two of them commercial fished throughout Jeff's childhood. His father has since passed away, but Jeff continues to fish when he finds time to leave the day care.

Fishing is just one of the outdoor activities that, for Jeff, makes living in Alaska worthwhile.

"It's Alaska. I wake up every day wishing I could go snowmachining," he said. "Where else can you walk out the front door and see Redoubt? I live on Gaswell. I can literally walk out and see Redoubt."

He and another friend from high school and college have decided to make their retirement opposite of most Alaskans. They want to live in Alaska all winter and in the summer migrate south.

"Every day we wake up and wish it was winter, but I like summer, too."

Living in North Dakota made Jeff appreciate life in Alaska even beyond the recreation.

"It was too windy and just freezing cold. Every winter it would get to minus-80 degrees," he said. "That is why I wanted to come back. I didn't want to stay, but didn't have any problem going to school there."

At first, Jeff left North Dakota when his father passed away. He returned to Alaska to help his family. However, once he came back, he remained and fulfilled his student teaching under Rob Dimick, the head football coach at Soldotna High School.

While he may be directly applying his degrees in education and basic physical education, Jeff gets his teaching fix as an assistant coach for the SoHi football and wrestling teams. He decided to run the day care because the opportunity fell in his lap and because of his love for little kids.

The kids are his favorite part, but someday he hopes to get back into teaching.

"Being my own boss isn't nearly as fun as I thought it would be," he said. "It is more challenging working with nine women, not 40 kids."

He already had two children of his own when he and Jessica started the day care, and he has a younger brother 14 years his junior.

"I've always done the kid thing," Jeff said. "We've had kids here that we had every single day, except weekends, since they were in diapers."

In fact, most of the kids in Jeff's day care are children of someone he went to high school with, and situations like that are exactly why the Bakers like their hometown.

"People watch out for other people around here. It is still small," Jessica said. "You can walk down the street late a night and not worry. I like the fact that basically everybody knows everybody. You can go to a neighbor for something. You don't have to search around in a phonebook the size of Texas."

Jeff agreed.

"It's nice. I can call up NBA and get a loan and barter for a paint job. Anything I need, I know someone that can help. ... I don't even have to order at Sal's anymore"

Jeff said he talks to people every day who want to leave or who think he is insane for coming back. But, he said he cannot understand why they don't want to live here.

"I'll never leave -- only if I got old and decrepit and couldn't snowmachine or fish or hunt."

Fortunately, Jessica agrees.

"I honestly can say that we are never going to leave."

Jeff and Becky Hultberg

Unlike Baker, Jeff Hultberg and Becky Baldwin were excited to flee the Kenai Peninsula for the thrill of attending college in another state. Yet, both found the need to return and find success in their hometown.

Jeff grew up on the peninsula and graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1983. After graduation, he was off to Idaho, where he attended the University of Idaho and the College of Idaho for his undergraduate work. He then did his graduate work at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa.

After graduating, he received a job offer in Soldotna. So in 1991, he returned home and took the job that later led to his own clinic, Hultberg Chiropractic.

"It wasn't a planned thing," he said, but his future plans did include returning home where his parents and sisters were.

Jeff said the time he spent outside of Alaska made him realize what the area had to offer him.

"Growing up, you think Outside is so great, but you go away and realize how wonderful it is back here."

Jeff is an avid Alaska outdoors enthusiast and said others states just don't compare to home.

"I live and die for hunting and fishing," he said.

But his career and hobbies are not all that kept Jeff in Soldotna.

He met Becky Baldwin soon after he returned in 1991.

Becky, who also was raised in Kenai, graduated from KCHS in 1992. Though she and Jeff were dating, Becky still left Alaska to attend Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas.

"I just wanted a different experience than small town Alaska," she said.

And her horizons were broadened, she said, in the three years it took to attain her history degree with a double minor in public service and economics.

After returning home from college, Jeff and Becky were married.

"That was my main reason for coming back," she said.

Becky said that before meeting Jeff, she always wanted to come home after school, but just not as soon as she did. However, she said she is glad she returned when she did.

Today, she works part-time at the Kenai office of the state's congressional delegation.

In 1998, the Hultberg family grew when Sophie was born. Their second child is due in August and now the couple has no plans of leaving the area.

"This is a great place to raise kids," Becky said.

The couple also agree the peninsula is a great place for younger people.

"There are opportunities for young people who choose to stay," Becky said.

Residents of the Kenai Peninsula also add to the many reasons the couple enjoys the area.

"There is a big difference as far as people go," Jeff said, adding that Alaskans are friendly and more willing to help out.

Becky sees the community as close knit, with strong roots.

"It is nice to know people who have known you most of your life, but it is sort of strange coming back," she said, adding that many people still view her as a high school student and it is hard for them to see her as a professional.

For Jeff, many of his customers are longtime acquaintances.

"It is nice to be a doctor to the elders you grew up with," he said.

The peaceful atmosphere and short commutes to work also are appealing for the couple.

Jeff said he likes being able to walk outside his door to start his car and not see other houses or people.

"Stuff like that matters," he said.

While a job offer brought Jeff back to the peninsula, his destiny keeps him here.

"If I wouldn't have come back, I wouldn't have met her."

Jerry Hu

Less than a mile down the road from Hultberg Chiropractic is Jerry Hu's dentistry business.

 

Dr. Jerry C. Hu

Photo by M. SCOTT MOON

After spending his college career at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and looking at other college prospects, Jerry said he realized Alaska was the place he preferred to live.

Jerry attended the university for both his undergraduate degree in science as well as to attain his graduate education in dentistry.

Before starting his graduate work, he said he looked at colleges in Pennsylvania, but said he did not like the atmosphere of Philadelphia campuses.

"They had metal detectors you had to go through to get to your dorms, so I said 'I am from Soldotna, this is not for me.'"

He said while he was at school, many people asked him about his identity.

"I feel I am a full-fledged 100 percent Alaskan," he said he told them, and still believes it today through he was not born an American citizen.

Jerry was born in Taiwan and moved to America with his parents when he was 5.

The family originally moved to the San Francisco Bay area, but later relocated to Soldotna when Jerry was in second grade.

He attended Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Middle schools and graduated from Soldotna High School in 1991.

His parents worked for the Four Royal Parkers restaurant in Soldotna. At that time, the establishment served Chinese cuisine. They later opened the Golden International restaurant on the Sterling Highway outside of Soldotna.

Jerry said helping his parents as a kid helped acquaint him with the community.

"I got to know the community members by doing restaurant stuff," he said.

But after graduating from high school, it was time for him to leave the small town and make a new life for himself.

Jerry said his decision to leave was prompted by his brother Peter, who had attended Purdue University. Peter told Jerry why he believed leaving was a good choice.

"It is nice to go a long distance away and go to a Big 10 campus where there are tens of thousands of people and really be on your own to be independent and grow up," Jerry recalled his brother telling him.

So Jerry left, but some may say it was fate that brought him back.

His English teacher from high school kept in touch with him throughout college and told him one day that his father, a longtime dentist in Soldotna, was planning to retire. Jerry contacted the dentist, Calvin Fair, and discussed dentistry.

Jerry said he agreed with Fair's philosophy and business practices. He decided Fair's business was what he wanted.

"It was almost predestined," Jerry said, adding that time between his graduating and officially taking over the business was less than five months, which is not normal for most dentists.

Jerry said the transition was simple and has worked out great for him.

"Sometimes I think I am in a dream because I think that everything just fell into place so nicely."

Jerry said his parents also played an important role in his returning to the peninsula.

"They have worked so hard all these years, and I think they have made a lot of sacrifices," he said, adding that both his parents were professionals in Taiwan, but immigrated for their children's futures.

"They felt the opportunity for Peter and I in America was much, much better."

Jerry said now that he has returned, he has no plans to leave the area. Aside from his practice, Jerry is the president of the Kenai-Kodiak Dental Society.

"I plan to retire here, grow old here and stay here," he said. "This is really my home and my community, and I think that I have to put in all that I have to make it better. But it is already a wonderful community."

Today, many of the patients who walk through Jerry's doors are those who watched him grow up. That is a great feeling, he said.

"I feel complete with that because a lot of the customers literally, they have seen me go through school -- extra-curricular activities that I was involved in. They were always getting updates from my folks at the restaurant when I was off at college. So now, seeing them here ... is really unique. It is almost like a weird calling," he said.

"That is just the part I feel lucky and fortunate about. I do count my blessings."

n n n

While many cannot wait to escape the small-town community atmosphere, these residents have proven there is life on the peninsula after college.

"Other than it being small, safe and home, it is beautiful. You can't go anywhere else and see things that you can see here. The air, the way it smells, I can't think of anything that is negative about this town -- that is any reason to leave, at least," said Jessica Baker.

"This should be how everybody's home is."

While many area teens share a dream of life beyond the Kenai Peninsula, sometimes a dose of "big city" life is enough to bring them home.

For others, the goal of returning is a constant.

Area residents who came back to the peninsula after college explain that getting away was nice, but coming back to family, friends and the place they call home, was the best decision of all.

These are their stories.

Matt and Nichole Streiff

Matt Streiff came back after college with a wife and a dream -- to raise his family on the peninsula and to serve the community he grew up in.

"I guess there are a number of reasons. My most impressionable years were spent growing up in Alaska," Matt said. "Just the fact that people knew who you were and were willing to help."

Matt, a 1994 graduate of Skyview High School, was born in Minnesota, but he moved to Alaska when he was 10 and has lived here ever since, except for the four years spent in college.

He received degrees in the fields of business administration and accounting from Valley City State University in North Dakota. The university is in a town about half the size of Soldotna, and combined with the atmosphere of a small college, Matt said, he only felt stronger about his plans to return to Alaska with his degrees.

"I liked what Kenai and Soldotna had to offer in terms of recreation and to be involved," he said. "My wife was born and raised here, and we wanted to raise our kids with what Alaska has to offer. I don't like the hustle and bustle of a big city."

Nichole, Matt's wife, graduated in 1996 from Skyview. Once she graduated, she moved to North Dakota to be with her future husband. She said she shared a lot of graduates' opinions about leaving, but only for a short while.

"I did leave right after I graduated, but after the first year I knew I wanted to come back," she said. "It was flat farmland, not nearly as beautiful as it is here."

"We were planning when we got married that we would come back here. Both my parents and Matt's parents were here."

Matt agreed that family played a role in their decision to return to the Kenai Peninsula.

"Sure it had some bearing, my brothers and mom and dad are here," he said. "That is always a blessing, to share in the happiness of good times."

Matt and Nichole have since started a family of their own. They have two kids, one who is 3, one who is almost 2 and another on the way.

The Streiffs said they also appreciate the supportive community.

"I am very, very pleased that I am here, fortunate to be in such an incredibly well-knit community," Matt said. "My line of work was a godsend. I just feared for my life that I would have to live in Anchorage. Now I can help people who helped me grow up and get a degree."

Matt works for Edward Jones Investments in Kenai, often helping residents plan for their retirements.

"My only transitional employment was working with my father-in-law," he said. "I came back with no fears that I was going to get something somewhere, even if that meant starting out at the bottom.

"I was just fortunate enough to come into a job where I have complete autonomy to run my own office. I am able to take my time off where needed. With children and with a pregnant wife, I am able to do that."

He and Nichole agree they wouldn't change anything.

"I can't think of anything better to be doing," he said. "It isn't the job that made it, it fits in the lifestyle and community."

The both say they knew they wanted to come back beforehand and that decision continues to fulfill itself every day.

"We are planning on staying here forever," Nichole said.

Jeff and Jessica Baker

Jeff Baker is one of the reasons Matt and Nichole Streiff ended up in North Dakota in the first place.

Matt and Jeff attended school together from their elementary years through high school. Jeff skipped a grade early on and graduated a year before his friend, but they were reunited in North Dakota at Valley City State University.

"I'd have paid anything to have another year," Jeff said of his early graduation.

Unlike his best friend, Jeff was born and raised in Alaska, and his wife was the one who moved to the state.

Jessica came to Alaska from Colorado right before her freshman year in high school; she wasn't part of the Skyview gang because she attended Soldotna High School, but Jeff said they vaguely knew each other.

They weren't formally introduced until Matt and Nichole's wedding. After she graduated in 1994, Jessica, like Nichole, moved to North Dakota to be with her future husband.

Jessica said they both always knew they would return. Both her and Jeff's families still lived in the state, and they never doubted they would make Alaska their home, too.

When the couple returned, they had an opportunity to purchase Little People's Learning World and a facility in Kenai.

"A day care in Kenai was going out of business, and he knew some people who were selling Little People's Learning World," Jessica said. "We prayed a lot about it before we decided."

The Bakers opened with only four children, but now, even in the summer when enrollment is down, the school has 75 kids. The Bakers and eight women run the day care.

"I did this because I wanted to figure out a way to have my wife have an income and still be at home with the kids," Jeff said.

It has worked out perfectly, he said. Under normal circumstances Jeff works Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Jessica works Tuesday and Thursday. However, the couple just had their fourth child and Jessica has been staying at home with their newborn.

They also have a 4-year-old boy, 3-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy.

"I definitely think that it is the perfect place to raise kids," Jessica said. "It is too hard to be away from family."

Jeff lived with his father growing up and the two of them commercial fished throughout Jeff's childhood. His father has since passed away, but Jeff continues to fish when he finds time to leave the day care.

Fishing is just one of the outdoor activities that, for Jeff, makes living in Alaska worthwhile.

"It's Alaska. I wake up every day wishing I could go snowmachining," he said. "Where else can you walk out the front door and see Redoubt? I live on Gaswell. I can literally walk out and see Redoubt."

He and another friend from high school and college have decided to make their retirement opposite of most Alaskans. They want to live in Alaska all winter and in the summer migrate south.

"Every day we wake up and wish it was winter, but I like summer, too."

Living in North Dakota made Jeff appreciate life in Alaska even beyond the recreation.

"It was too windy and just freezing cold. Every winter it would get to minus-80 degrees," he said. "That is why I wanted to come back. I didn't want to stay, but didn't have any problem going to school there."

At first, Jeff left North Dakota when his father passed away. He returned to Alaska to help his family. However, once he came back, he remained and fulfilled his student teaching under Rob Dimick, the head football coach at Soldotna High School.

While he may be directly applying his degrees in education and basic physical education, Jeff gets his teaching fix as an assistant coach for the SoHi football and wrestling teams. He decided to run the day care because the opportunity fell in his lap and because of his love for little kids.

The kids are his favorite part, but someday he hopes to get back into teaching.

"Being my own boss isn't nearly as fun as I thought it would be," he said. "It is more challenging working with nine women, not 40 kids."

He already had two children of his own when he and Jessica started the day care, and he has a younger brother 14 years his junior.

"I've always done the kid thing," Jeff said. "We've had kids here that we had every single day, except weekends, since they were in diapers."

In fact, most of the kids in Jeff's day care are children of someone he went to high school with, and situations like that are exactly why the Bakers like their hometown.

"People watch out for other people around here. It is still small," Jessica said. "You can walk down the street late a night and not worry. I like the fact that basically everybody knows everybody. You can go to a neighbor for something. You don't have to search around in a phonebook the size of Texas."

Jeff agreed.

"It's nice. I can call up NBA and get a loan and barter for a paint job. Anything I need, I know someone that can help. ... I don't even have to order at Sal's anymore"

Jeff said he talks to people every day who want to leave or who think he is insane for coming back. But, he said he cannot understand why they don't want to live here.

"I'll never leave -- only if I got old and decrepit and couldn't snowmachine or fish or hunt."

Fortunately, Jessica agrees.

"I honestly can say that we are never going to leave."

Jeff and Becky Hultberg

Unlike Baker, Jeff Hultberg and Becky Baldwin were excited to flee the Kenai Peninsula for the thrill of attending college in another state. Yet, both found the need to return and find success in their hometown.

Jeff grew up on the peninsula and graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1983. After graduation, he was off to Idaho, where he attended the University of Idaho and the College of Idaho for his undergraduate work. He then did his graduate work at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa.

After graduating, he received a job offer in Soldotna. So in 1991, he returned home and took the job that later led to his own clinic, Hultberg Chiropractic.

"It wasn't a planned thing," he said, but his future plans did include returning home where his parents and sisters were.

Jeff said the time he spent outside of Alaska made him realize what the area had to offer him.

"Growing up, you think Outside is so great, but you go away and realize how wonderful it is back here."

Jeff is an avid Alaska outdoors enthusiast and said others states just don't compare to home.

"I live and die for hunting and fishing," he said.

But his career and hobbies are not all that kept Jeff in Soldotna.

He met Becky Baldwin soon after he returned in 1991.

Becky, who also was raised in Kenai, graduated from KCHS in 1992. Though she and Jeff were dating, Becky still left Alaska to attend Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas.

"I just wanted a different experience than small town Alaska," she said.

And her horizons were broadened, she said, in the three years it took to attain her history degree with a double minor in public service and economics.

After returning home from college, Jeff and Becky were married.

"That was my main reason for coming back," she said.

Becky said that before meeting Jeff, she always wanted to come home after school, but just not as soon as she did. However, she said she is glad she returned when she did.

Today, she works part-time at the Kenai office of the state's congressional delegation.

In 1998, the Hultberg family grew when Sophie was born. Their second child is due in August and now the couple has no plans of leaving the area.

"This is a great place to raise kids," Becky said.

The couple also agree the peninsula is a great place for younger people.

"There are opportunities for young people who choose to stay," Becky said.

Residents of the Kenai Peninsula also add to the many reasons the couple enjoys the area.

"There is a big difference as far as people go," Jeff said, adding that Alaskans are friendly and more willing to help out.

Becky sees the community as close knit, with strong roots.

"It is nice to know people who have known you most of your life, but it is sort of strange coming back," she said, adding that many people still view her as a high school student and it is hard for them to see her as a professional.

For Jeff, many of his customers are longtime acquaintances.

"It is nice to be a doctor to the elders you grew up with," he said.

The peaceful atmosphere and short commutes to work also are appealing for the couple.

Jeff said he likes being able to walk outside his door to start his car and not see other houses or people.

"Stuff like that matters," he said.

While a job offer brought Jeff back to the peninsula, his destiny keeps him here.

"If I wouldn't have come back, I wouldn't have met her."

Jerry Hu

Less than a mile down the road from Hultberg Chiropractic is Jerry Hu's dentistry business.

After spending his college career at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and looking at other college prospects, Jerry said he realized Alaska was the place he preferred to live.

Jerry attended the university for both his undergraduate degree in science as well as to attain his graduate education in dentistry.

Before starting his graduate work, he said he looked at colleges in Pennsylvania, but said he did not like the atmosphere of Philadelphia campuses.

"They had metal detectors you had to go through to get to your dorms, so I said 'I am from Soldotna, this is not for me.'"

He said while he was at school, many people asked him about his identity.

"I feel I am a full-fledged 100 percent Alaskan," he said he told them, and still believes it today through he was not born an American citizen.

Jerry was born in Taiwan and moved to America with his parents when he was 5.

The family originally moved to the San Francisco Bay area, but later relocated to Soldotna when Jerry was in second grade.

He attended Soldotna Elementary and Soldotna Middle schools and graduated from Soldotna High School in 1991.

His parents worked for the Four Royal Parkers restaurant in Soldotna. At that time, the establishment served Chinese cuisine. They later opened the Golden International restaurant on the Sterling Highway outside of Soldotna.

Jerry said helping his parents as a kid helped acquaint him with the community.

"I got to know the community members by doing restaurant stuff," he said.

But after graduating from high school, it was time for him to leave the small town and make a new life for himself.

Jerry said his decision to leave was prompted by his brother Peter, who had attended Purdue University. Peter told Jerry why he believed leaving was a good choice.

"It is nice to go a long distance away and go to a Big 10 campus where there are tens of thousands of people and really be on your own to be independent and grow up," Jerry recalled his brother telling him.

So Jerry left, but some may say it was fate that brought him back.

His English teacher from high school kept in touch with him throughout college and told him one day that his father, a longtime dentist in Soldotna, was planning to retire. Jerry contacted the dentist, Calvin Fair, and discussed dentistry.

Jerry said he agreed with Fair's philosophy and business practices. He decided Fair's business was what he wanted.

"It was almost predestined," Jerry said, adding that time between his graduating and officially taking over the business was less than five months, which is not normal for most dentists.

Jerry said the transition was simple and has worked out great for him.

"Sometimes I think I am in a dream because I think that everything just fell into place so nicely."

Jerry said his parents also played an important role in his returning to the peninsula.

"They have worked so hard all these years, and I think they have made a lot of sacrifices," he said, adding that both his parents were professionals in Taiwan, but immigrated for their children's futures.

"They felt the opportunity for Peter and I in America was much, much better."

Jerry said now that he has returned, he has no plans to leave the area. Aside from his practice, Jerry is the president of the Kenai-Kodiak Dental Society.

"I plan to retire here, grow old here and stay here," he said. "This is really my home and my community, and I think that I have to put in all that I have to make it better. But it is already a wonderful community."

Today, many of the patients who walk through Jerry's doors are those who watched him grow up. That is a great feeling, he said.

"I feel complete with that because a lot of the customers literally, they have seen me go through school -- extra-curricular activities that I was involved in. They were always getting updates from my folks at the restaurant when I was off at college. So now, seeing them here ... is really unique. It is almost like a weird calling," he said.

"That is just the part I feel lucky and fortunate about. I do count my blessings."

n n n

While many cannot wait to escape the small-town community atmosphere, these residents have proven there is life on the peninsula after college.

"Other than it being small, safe and home, it is beautiful. You can't go anywhere else and see things that you can see here. The air, the way it smells, I can't think of anything that is negative about this town -- that is any reason to leave, at least," said Jessica Baker.

"This should be how everybody's home is."



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